About me

David Bartholomew


I am a tropical forest ecologist investigating the impacts of climate change on tropical forests. I am currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Exeter in the Geography department, funded by the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership.

I started my career as a conservation biologist and have studied a variety of taxa, including birds, sharks, sea turtles, cetaceans, orang-utans, and plants. This work has taken me across the world to countries that include France, Peru, Brazil, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

My current research focuses on the eco-physiology of tropical forest trees in Malaysian Borneo and the Eastern Brazilian Amazon. I am particularly interested in understanding the carbon balance within individual trees and the physiological processes that determine species distributions within tropical rainforests. More specifically, I study photosynthetic, respiratory and morphological traits across different water, nutrient and light conditions to understand responses to environmental change.

My research focuses on a natural environmental gradient in the Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia and the world’s longest running drought experiment in Caxiuanã, Para, Brazil. In Sepilok, I aim to understand what eco-physiological traits determine habitat filtering in the Dipterocarpaceae family and the differences between habitat specialists and generalists. I also aim to understand how plasticity in eco-physiology changes across ontogenetic stages as a tree grows from a seedling to a canopy emergent. In Caxiuanã, I aim to understand acclimation in photosynthesis, respiration and carbon storage within small trees following long-term soil moisture deficit. From my PhD, I aim to discover how the dynamics of tropical forests are being altered by long-term environmental change.

I am also involved in several other projects. In Sepilok and Caxiuana, I am collaborating with colleagues to measure hydraulic functional traits. By measuring these traits alongside the carbon metabolism traits, we aim to get a holistic understanding of how tropical forest trees function. In addition, I am studying the photosynthesis of oil palm trees in Bintulu, Malaysia, investigating how carbon metabolism changes with plantation and frond age. Finally, I am working on a project to understand seedling recruitment and mortality following a mast fruiting event in Danum Valley, Malaysia.

Besides my research, I have recently founded the Little Environmental Action Foundation (LEAF). This charity aims to restore degraded ecosystems to maximise their biodiversity and carbon sequestration potential. Initial work is taking place to restore Kenya’s coastal forests in Kilifi.

Outside of academia, my interests include wildlife photography, cycling, scuba diving and birdwatching. I simply love all nature and wild places.

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